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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/31/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 31
Table of Contents
Discrimination (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
People don't believe me that I am discriminated against. I find cashiers tend to have it in for me. I don't understand why. Last week I was buying three items and two of them needed price checks. I had to stand there ten minutes while some clerk went back to check the prices. I think they had it in for me personally. That's the last time I shop at EVERYTHING-4-A-DOLLAR.
Hugo for Fannish CD???? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been listening to A WALK ON THE WINDY SIDE, a fannish audio production on a CD that Windycon put in their goody bag with little fanfare. It is sort of a guide to what goes on at a convention including filk songs and Fred Pohl reading his "Let the Ants Try." (I remember writing about why that story was good when I was in 6th grade.) It turns out the CD is really quite good. I think it should at least be eligible for a Hugo. Technically it would probably go in Short Dramatic Form along with episodes of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Bill Roper, one of the main voices, is decent-looking, but he cannot compete with Sarah Michelle Geller, if you know what I mean. (Gretchen Roper may disagree.) And you don't even see him on a CD. Also the Windycon Goody Bag just does not have the penetration of a TV network. I'll nominate this thing for a Hugo, but it seems almost like a waste of a nomination. I hope they put it up online someplace where at least people with Internet access can get it. [-mrl]
Courts Decide Mutant Super-Heroes Are Not Human (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Welcome to the 21st Century. Welcome to the future. I think things have rather crept up on me. Things are happening that used to be confined to science fiction stories and to comic books. Are you aware that the government is now making decisions as to whether mutants with super-powers are human or not? Seriously. It's the truth. In fact, the decision has been made at the United States Court of International Trade that mutants like Wolverine are not human.
For those who don't know whom or what Wolverine is, think of him as the Wolf Man with Freddy-Kruger-style claws. Yeah. He's a good guy. Well, as good as good guys go these days. He isn't exactly a role model. No, he isn't someone you want your daughter to bring home as a prospective family member. But he tries to be good. Or as good as he can be with steel claws. They sort of rule out use of cell phones and PC keyboards I would think. But I am digressing. Yes, the United States Court of International Trade has just ruled that Wolverine and his buddies are actually not human.
So why does the United States Court of International Trade care? Well, it is really over money. (Big surprise!) Marvel Enterprises, Inc. is in a tariff battle with the United States Customs Service. The Wall Street Journal reports all this at http://tinyurl.com/4oya, and another report from the Delaware News Journal is at http://tinyurl.com/50mq. It seems that Marvel, in addition to publishing the popular comic books, also makes lots of toys and dolls of their figures. Okay, I am not supposed to use the word "dolls." These are "action figures." It is like we know that what they publish is comic books, but they prefer the more dignified name "graphic novels." Well, they think that is more dignified than comic books. Actually the term "graphic novel" in me conjures up the image of lurid books from authors you never heard of and with titles like CENTERFOLD MODELS BEHAVING BADLY. But I guess I am digressing again and should get to the point. (Pity, I almost hate to lose that digression.) Anyway, the question really is whether these "action figures" (I guess that conjures up its own images. Behave, Mark.) are dolls or toys.
Does it matter if they are dolls or toys? Oh, it surely does. You see dolls are considered to be a fine item of quality, while you give fuzzy animal toys to infants to drool on. The government blithely said that if a toy is a figure of a human, that makes it a doll and it has a tariff at one rate. If it represents something non-human, it is merely a toy and it has a tariff at a significantly lower rate. That was how the tariff was defined. But like many laws, the people who framed it thought the rule was clear and easy to apply, but it really is not. In specific, are Marvel Comics mutants human or not? Well, they kind of are and they kind of are not. They are in many ways superhuman. You would think that there is more dignity in being human. But, it is a dollars-and-cents issue to Marvel. They want the lower tariff and to have refunded a large amount of tariff that that has already been paid at the higher doll rate. They don't care if infants drool on Wolverine if there is a buck to be made from it. Marvel, through their subsidiary Toy Biz Inc., does not want their mutants considered human. They want the money they can get by having their super-heroes labeled non-humans and to heck with the dignity of the characters. Part of what makes all this interesting is their readers have more respect for Wolverine than the publishers do. The readers want Wolverine to be classed as a human. It makes comic books more respectable. Besides, do you think Marvel would pass the tariff savings to the reader/drooler/toy-fan? Dream on. Marvel is willing and happy to insult its readers by denying humanity to their wolfman with steel claws for the sake of profits. It is rare that an issue separates the publishers and readers of comic books, but this one apparently does.
There is, I suppose, the deeper issue (Peter Singer take note) that we consider that there is a dividing line between human and non-human and everything that breathes is on one side of the line or the other. Non-human can mean superhuman. Though to the best of my knowledge, Marvel's definition of superhuman is always measured in how well-equipped a creature is to clout his/her enemies. I mean, I don't think that any of their heroes is irradiated by a glowing blue meteor and suddenly has an itch to prove the Riemann Hypothesis. (Now that is a comic book I would buy!) Marvel's idea of superhuman seems always to involve suddenly having the ability to clout someone better.
When Marvel's readers protest that their super-heroes deserve the dignity of being human, it is because our society and the first two Star Trek series have repeated so often that being human is the bestest thing to be in the whole darn universe. "Star Trek" tells us it is far better to be human than an emotionless logical entity like a Vulcan or a mechanical thing like an android. Religions have gotten into the act by introducing an undefined term called a "soul."
My opinion on this decision is that Marvel and the United States Court of International Trade are asking the wrong questions. Are Marvel mutants human or not? Neither. There is no sharp line of definition. You cannot say that humans have souls, non- humans do not, and Marvel heroes do or Marvel heroes don't. The issue should be sentience, not human-ness and in either case, there are no boundaries. Some heroes are more human than others. [-mrl]
LA DERNIÈRE LETTRE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The performance in French by Catherine Samie adds a great deal to this one-person film. It is one woman's letter to her son from Russia telling of the coming of the Nazis to her town. LA DERNIÈRE LETTRE (THE LAST LETTER) demonstrates how riveting one actor can be on a stage. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
Frederick Wiseman's film is a dramatic recitation of a letter from a novel. It is the last letter from a Jewish woman to her son after the Nazis have moved into a Russian or Ukrainian town and forced all the Jews into a ghetto preparatory to murdering them all. It looks at the cooperation of the locals with the Nazis. The woman, an eye doctor, describes among other things the anti-Semitism of the townspeople released by the fall of the town to the Nazis.
In the film Vassili Grossman (played by Catherine Samie, grand dame and star of the Comedie-Francaise) describes the changes to her town. She is thrown out of her room and her neighbors divide up her furniture and argue in front of her over who gets what. Some doctors she worked with give her pity. Others make pointedly anti-Semitic comments. She describes being forced to move to the ghetto. There they fight for the tiny amount of food. The only food they are allowed to buy is potatoes. She describes hints of Jews in the woods, groups of men drafted "to dig potatoes," but it is really mass graves they are digging. I could go on, but not without robbing much of the impact of the film. The letter ends with a poignant and painful final farewell to her son.
This is a short film, only sixty-one minutes in length, a one-person performance on a stage. It is more theater than film. It is hard to measure this production by the same standards as a feature film. It might be considered a short. Even the use of light and shadow on the stage is powerful. I rate LA DERNIÈRE LETTRE an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
[This film is playing for two weeks at the Film Forum in New York, starting January 29.]
LOST IN LA MANCHA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Terry Gilliam is the center of attention in this documentary about the making of another film. The film being made, or rather failing to be made, was THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. The film was never made and this film documents why not. It is a primer in the frustrations of the filmmaking business and how to mismanage the making of a film. This is a film that shows why someone would not want to work for Terry Gilliam, and why they would. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
This is a documentary made for the Independent Film Channel that was originally intended to be THE MAKING OF THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. It was to be shown at the same time Terry Gilliam released the film THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. If the title is not familiar, it is because the film never got made. That film died a lingering death after two weeks of disastrous shooting that included shots ruined by the Spanish Air Force, an incredible flash flood that washed away the entire set, the leading man being hospitalized with injuries that precluded him riding a horse again, and other fiascos too numerous to be mentioned. Gilliam continues to labor on in his own quixotic manner.
Gilliam's mind is the real star of the documentary. It is constantly active coming up with new creative ideas. Normally a virtue, this turns out to be very trying on his co-workers. At one telling point, one of his staff trying to create the things Gilliam describes testily tells Gilliam to cut off the ideas. Sometimes the ideas become too much for the quality of the story. This film will have a modern man going back in time and meeting Quixote. I personally prefer my Quixote with no time travelers unless Cervantes mentioned them. And he didn't.
In my opinion, Don Quixote is the wrong subject for Terry Gilliam. The novel has one well-known half-way visual scene. Most of the sequences are humorous talking head pieces. Gilliam's forte is very visual stories. He would have to do a lot of inventing of things not in the novel. Using a time travel frame and add a character not in the original subverts the purpose of the work. He may have been adding several sequences around Quixote, but they would be newly re-imagined and written. Perhaps it would work, but it would be surprising. The Baron Munchausen stories are more visual and even so they did not really work when Gilliam adapted them.
With Jeff Bridges's narration and to the accompaniment of Gilliam-style animation at times, the documentary follows the production as it little by little comes together. The problem is that it is too little by too little. Gilliam keeps having new ideas but does not have the budget to create them. Schedules are set assuming everybody will be available just at the right time and resources will be completed and ready when needed. Gilliam leaves himself highly dependent on good luck. Gilliam himself looks at this like it is insane, but in his world that is a compliment. Then when he shoots he runs into a string of bad planning and bad luck. The whole production is washed out. In part literally. Then we see what happens after the failure.
The most amazing thing about the whole experience was Gilliam's attitude when they brought him out afterward. We had just seen a documentary in which everything that could go wrong did. I expected that Gilliam would be a little bitter or at least depressed. As far as he is concerned the project is still alive and--oh boy--he is going to go out and make his Quixote project. He now is more enthusiastic than he appeared at any time in the documentary. Gilliam loves making films only love it a little less when the project goes agonizingly wrong. I was a lot more impressed with him after seeing his errors and his attitude than I was before I had seen either. This is a man who should be making films. I rate this view of the man a 6 on the 0 to 10 a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
DIRTY DEEDS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A nice, ironic crime comedy from Australia has its rewards for those who can cut through the thick accents. David Caesar wrote and directed this tale of an Australian gambling machine lord who must protect his turf when the American mob starts muscling in on his territory. The results are amusing if not all that new or memorable. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
From Australia comes a crime comedy-drama written and directed by David Caesar.
The year is 1969. Barry Ryan (played by Bryan Brown) is the slot machine emperor of Sidney, Australia. But how long can he hold that position? The American mob wants to buy him out. They sent a likable old hood (John Goodman) to do the negotiation and in case he needs some muscle he has Sal (Felix Williamson), a violent young traveling companion. There is some overstated poking fun at Americans being provincial and ignorant of Australian culture.
Barry Ryan's young protege, Barry's nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington) is just back from Vietnam. He finds he has two new interests in life, Barry Ryan's young girl friend and this strange dish the Yanks ate in Vietnam with the equally strange name "pizza." Barry Ryan has three conflicts on his hands. A rival gang is trying to muscle in on his slot business. The Americans are trying to force him to sell the business. And his wife (Toni Collette) is less than happy about sharing her husband with a woman ten years her junior.
The story mixes comedy and sudden bloody violence. DIRTY DEEDS comes with a tense car chase, but builds to a hunting trip in the outback that is played like a game of chess. Caesar's script is generally enjoyable, though the American hood makes a stupid tactical blunder that reminds the viewer that this is a contrived script.
Browne is his usual stern Australian self. Goodman is rather nice as a likable old hood with some deep regrets. Under-used is Sam Neill as a corrupt cop. I rate DIRTY DEEDS a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. Americans may have some problems with thick Australian accents and with Australian slang. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I've been reading HOW THEY SAID IT: WISE AND WITTY LETTERS FROM THE FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS, collected and edited by Rosalie Maggio. Two samples:
Edna St. Vincent Millay to Arthur Davison Ficke: "Please don't think me negligent or rude. I am both, in effect, of course, but please don't think me either...."
Agnes de Mille to Anna George de Mille:
"Tomorrow at dawn, or literally very early, we motor north. The address will be BRYNHFRYD PONTFADOG WREXHAM DENBIGHSHIRE This is not a cable code. It is a Welsh address recognized by the Royal Automobile Club and the post office...."
I also read a humorous (but basically accurate) history of opera, WHEN THE FAT LADY SINGS by David W. Barber. For example, when he writes, "Rossini wrote his last opera, 'Guillaume Tell' ('William Tell'), in 1829," he footnotes it with, "You know: it's the one about The Lone Ranger."
Plutarch, on the other hand, is not chock-a-block with humor. I'm currently reading the Penguin edition subtitled "The Rise and Fall of Athens," but have gotten only as far as Theseus, Solon, and Themistocles. The first two seem to be based more on legend than on history, but the last moves more into history. Themistocles also has the distinction of being quoted in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA: "I cannot fiddle but I can make a great state of a small city." Bartlett renders the quote as "Tuning the lyre and handling the harp are no accomplishments of mine, but rather taking in hand a city that was small and making it glorious and great." This seems closer to what Plutrach paraphrases, but not as "snappy."
There's also THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell, read for our library's book discussion group. His premise is that one can achieve large results with small efforts strategically placed (shades of another Greek, Archimedes!) and one of the things he examines is the decline in crime in New York City as (possibly) brought about by a concentrated effort to wipe out graffiti. For the original article from "The New Yorker", go to http://www.gladwell.com/1996/1996_06_03_a_tipping.htm.
And finally, we watched the Irish television production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." This is part of the series "Becket on Film", which will do all nineteen of Beckett's plays, and is running intermittently on PBS in the United States. I think that "Waiting for Godot" is a bi-model play--you will either love it or hate it. I loved it, maybe because it sounded so much like conversations that Mark and I have. :-) (I'm not sure which of us is which, though.) If you like Tom Stoppard (especially "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"), you'll probably like this. [-ecl]
And did you notice...? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is one thing for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life to find an unusual signal, but how to you tell if it is artificial enough that it represents intelligence? A series of articles is starting on the subject of how you do decide just what it is that your fishing through the cosmos has found. You can find the first article on this subject at space.com at http://tinyurl.com/53pr.
Apparently there really are people working on the concepts of matter teleportation. You know the stuff of THE FLY and of STAR TREK. I am not sure I would want to be teleported in the way they describe, but it is interesting that that the ideas are having some basis in technology. If you want to read about it take a look at http://tinyurl.com/53qa.
At a school in Britain they wanted to take care of the problem of poorer children getting razzed for getting their lunches given to them free. Now nobody will tender cash for his lunch. Every student getting lunch will pay for it by identifying himself with a retinal scan. The richer students will be charged for their food by electronic funds transfer; the students who have been approved will simply not have their accounts charged. See http://tinyurl.com/53p6 for the article, originally from "The Star" in South Africa.
[Hey, why is everything at tinyurl.com? TinyURL is a service to index long and complex URLs and give you short simple ones in their place. It makes it a lot easier to pass readers URLs.] [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Our passions are like convulsion fits, which, though they make us stronger for a time, leave us the weaker ever after. -- Alexander Pope
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